A Knice Pair: Two Cards Of Minor League Phenom Alan Knicely

1980 TCMA Tuscon Toros # 14
1983 Donruss # 620

Knicely was drafted third in the June 1974 free agent draft as a right-handed pitcher. After four years as a pitcher (including stops at Covington, Dubuque and Columbus) during which he posted 19 - 21 record with a 4.70 ERA, Knicely switched positions prior to the the 1978 season, becoming a catcher. Assigned to AA Columbus, he showed some pop by hitting 15 homers and 12 doubles, but struck out 112 times in 140 games en route to compiling a .227 average.

The addition of eyeglasses to his uniform for the 1979 season saw tremendous results, as he would go on to lead the Southern league in homers for the year. He also hit .289, with 76 RBI, while cutting down his K's to 77, and was named League co-MVP, sharing the honor with teammate Danny Heep. Knicely got a brief call up at the end of the 1979 season and went 0 for 6 in 7 games for the Astros.

In 1980, Knicely was promoted to AAA Tuscon, and this time he led his league in RBI's--with 105--while hitting .313. PCL MVP, however, went to Heep again, this time by his lonesome. The end of year call up was even briefer for 1981: one at bat, a strikeout.

Knicely finished second on the Tucson squad in RBI's and homers to Tim Tolman for 1981, while again hitting over .300. Knicely's annual lateseason callup for 1981 was three games seven at bats, two of which resulted in homeruns, produced in consecutive games October 3 and 4 vs. the Dodgers. And there's actually something special about that: browsing on SABR-L recently, I actually found out that no-one in baseball history other than Knicely (at least through '98) has ever had a season of seven at bats with as many as two home runs. Not surprisingly, Knicely's isolated power number for 1981 of .857 is also the highest in Astros history.

Knicely finally made the Houston ballclub out of spring training in 1982 as Alan Ashby's backup, but did not, I think it is fair to say, perform as hoped or even expected. "Experimenting with contact lenses" as the 1983 Media Guide put it, Knicely hit .197 with the same number of homers he'd hit in seven games at the end of '81 spread over 70.

Knicely was not given another chance, as he was traded to the Reds for Bill Dawley and Tony Walker at the end of spring training 1983. Knicely hit .224 for the Reds in '83, then .333 for AAA Wichita in 1984, and .413 for the 1985 Denver American Association club, indelibly branding himself in the minds of most as the quintessential Quadruple A player--good enough to dominate AAA, but not good enough to last in the majors.

Regardless, Knicely's seasons as an Astro farmhand merit kudos, as does his transformation from mediocre minor-league pitcher to a slugging prospect that I'm sure had fans of the big club very excited at the dawn of the '80's.

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